Resist UPA’s Foreign Universities Bill !
Defend Sovereignty, Social Justice And Inclusion in Higher Education!
The Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill 2010 was recently cleared by the Union Cabinet presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This is a bill with dangerous implications, for it allows foreign educational providers to set up campuses in India and offer degrees. The UPA will in all likelihood get it ratified, as it is on its way to being tabled before both houses of the Parliament.
Behind The Smokescreen of ‘Choice’, ‘Competition’ and ‘Quality’
The Minister for Human Resources Development, Kapil Sibal his cohorts would have us believe that this Bill will ‘enhance choices’, ‘increase competition’ and ‘benchmark quality’.
But this smokescreen of ‘choice’, ‘competition’ and ‘quality’, hides the real truth behind this Bill. This is a bill that will pave the way for virtually unrestricted entry of foreign private players in higher education. It will only hasten the process of converting education into a commodity available to a select few who can afford it. Above all, it essentially absolves the state of its responsibility to provide affordable, quality education to its citizens and to ensure social inclusion in institutions of higher education in the country.
We need only remember that according to a story published in the Indian Express, the aggressive advocate of the liberalization policy, Manmohan Singh, objected to an earlier version of the Foreign Universities Bill on two counts: 1) fee regulations by the UGC and 2) the modalities of giving approval to these universities. The PMO apparently argued that if the UGC regulates fee for foreign varsities, Ivy League institutes would not set up their campuses in India! In other words, the PMO made an all-out attempt to dilute even the minimalist restrictions that had been inserted in the bill to curtail the foreign education providers..
While the UPA is hastily trying to lay the red carpet for the entry of foreign universities, we need only point to the mess that it is facing over the complete unregulated behavior of hundreds of illegal ‘deemed’ universities in the country. These deemed universities are pockets of profit rather than learning, where ‘education’ and ‘quality’ have been reduced to a complete farce. To turn attention away from its connivance in this wholesale corruption and destruction of quality education, the HRD ministry has an innovative solution: it is time to invite foreign players onto the scene!
And what is the justification being offered? That the proposed bill will open the floodgates for the best universities to set up shop in India, and therefore Indian students will no longer have to go abroad to pursue quality education! But will Ivy League Universities actually come running to open their campuses in India? The farce of this argument has been repeatedly exposed by experiences across the globe. Philip Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, USA, points out:
Most foreign providers are not top universities but are rather institutions at the middle or bottom of the hierarchy in their home countries. Some have financial or enrolment problems at home and want to solve them with offshore ventures. And some are “bottom-feeders” who will provide a substandard educational product in India. … International experience shows that the “market” is slow to detect low quality — and there seems to be a clientele for poor quality in any case.”
Universities as Shops and Sources of Profit
The fact of the matter is that foreign universities will be highly reluctant to enter India unless it is hugely profitable to them; unless they are given a free hand to decide on their fee structures and course content. Several foreign universities have openly expressed their strong opposition to any attempt of the Indian government to introduce provisions of reservations, or to introduce stringent norms on hiring faculty, on fee structures or bans on remittances back home. And this is precisely why no foreign university or educational institution has sprinted to India and established its offshore campus even though FDI in higher education has been allowed since 2000. The sole motivation of FDI is always profit. And if the sources of profit are curtailed, then investors look for other destinations for their investments.
A Setback to Social Justice
The proposed bill will also mean a setback to the hard-earned victory of the student movement to ensure a degree of social inclusion in institutions of higher learning. Quota laws mandating reservations for SC/ST/OBCs will not be applicable to these foreign universities setting up operations in India.
Will Knowledge be Free?
Also at stake is the important question of what exactly will be taught in these foreign universities? The fact of the matter is that FDI serves to strengthen the stranglehold of neo-liberal ideas in academia. It impedes the development of critical research within our university education system, geared towards meeting the social, political and economic imperatives of the poor and underprivileged majority of a country like India.
Re-ordering education is crucial in order to ensure a workforce tailored to the exigencies of global capital. Global capital requires that education be provided only to the degree and extent that it serves the market. The question, for us, is – do we in India need education that will further knowledge and make us more self-reliant? Or do we need education that is a slave to global capital and the ‘free’ market? The needs of our people and the needs of global capital are clearly at odds with each other.
Higher education and research are not just means of eking a livelihood or getting a job – they equip people with the capacity for critical analysis. And the market does not need or want people with a faculty for critical analysis. In fact, the market views such critical analysis as a threat – because it can see through the seductive mask of the market to the cruel face beneath. The market needs research, certainly, but not the kind of research that seeks to understand, change or benefit society.
As the Foreign Universities Bill moves to the Parliament for ratification, the entire student community and the democratic sections of society will have to rise up in defense of affordable quality education to oppose this anti-poor, anti-student legislation which will hasten the process of converting higher education institutions into exclusive enclaves of the rich.